Simple Pleasures from a Flower Vase…

Text and photography copyright Thomas Webster 2004. All rights reserved.


The other day I had a rare day off with no pressing demands and decided to do a little hunting for amoebae. I made the rounds of my three favorite ponds, sampling the waters and the bottom sediments. Returning home I settled in with the sample jars full of prospects and my microscope at the ready, looking forward to an afternoon's leisurely hunt. Three hours and several sample changes later my leisurely afternoon turned into an afternoon full of frustration. Not an amoeba to be found!

On one of my trips to the kitchen to wash a microscope slide and cover slip, for yet another fruitless search, I noticed my wife had opened the kitchen drapes. Sitting on the kitchen windowsill is a small flower vase containing a section of bamboo rooting in water. The sunlight coming through the kitchen window gave the rooting water an enticing golden hue. Stubbornly, I kept hunting through the water samples I had already gathered but, all the while, I kept thinking of that water in the flower vase. Finally, on a return trip to the kitchen to wash yet another unsuccessful microscope slide, I carried a plastic pipette and sampled what little bottom sediment could be sampled in the flower vase.

At first, I wasn't sure of what I was looking at through my 10x objective lens. The few drops of bamboo water looked fairly sterile; some large clumps of cyanobacteria here and there and an occasional, tiny ciliate whizzing through the field of view quicker than I could make an identification. I encountered the indigestible remains of a long dead rotifer. I started to get that feeling of discouragement…again. The most interesting organisms I saw were some long chains of some sort of cyanobacteria; I can't decide which species, though..

I sat staring dully through the binocular head on my microscope when I realized that one of the large clumps of algae had moved a considerable distance across the field of view. Huh? I hadn't fiddled with the stage positioning controls. A closer examination of the algae clump revealed a single, wide-spreading pseudopod. In my haste, I failed to recognize the large clumps of algae for what they were…enormous Thecamoeba!! My quest was fulfilled. Without a doubt, these are the largest and slowest moving amoeba I have yet to observe. At lower magnifications one can hardly tell the amoeba is moving. Higher magnifications reveal the cytoplasmic flow within the amoeba.

I continued my search with renewed vigor. Higher magnifications revealed a couple more species of amoeba. Both of these amoeba are considerably smaller than the Thecamoeba and much faster moving. I would have mistaken these amoeba as oil drops had not the pseudopodia been obviously moving.


For some time now, I have been partially disabled. The collecting trips to nearby ponds and destinations farther have been reduced drastically. This day in particular, I had traveled to many ponds within a few miles of my home and stretched my endurance collecting water samples. It was quite humbling (as well as a great relief, too) to have found my quarry in a simple flower vase a few steps from my workstation. It is quite easy to overlook the obvious.

Author's Note

All of the images accompanying this article are single video frame captures from a simple webcam modified to fit my microscope. You can view the original video clips at On Closer Inspection... I enjoy making video clips of the "micro-critters" I encounter with the webcam but it does not make a very suitable substitute for a still camera if still images are to be captured.

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